Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”: The New Yorker’s view of Los Angeles

While a student at university in the Los Angeles area I went to the theater to see the movie “Annie Hall” (1977 Academy Award for Best Picture). There is a scene where New Yorker Alvy Singer, played by the director Woody Allen, is being driven in a car through the Los Angeles suburb of Beverly Hills with Christmas music playing. Singer is in Los Angeles to convince title character Annie Hall to move back with him to New York City and they are driving by houses with Christmas decorations. Halfway through this transitional scene there is a shot of a front lawn with a full-size decorative Santa Claus on a sleigh pulled by reindeer. When I saw this the first time, the scene did not stand out in my mind.

Movie poster for Annie Hall

Movie poster for Annie Hall

A few years later, after I graduated, I moved to New York and saw the film again in a theater. During the scene with the decorative Santa on the lawn, laughter broke out in the theater. Had I missed a joke? Had someone slipped and dropped their popcorn? Did someone in the audience say something that I missed? No, the sight of Santa driving a sleigh on freshly-cut green grass in the hot sun was absurdly funny to New Yorkers, who are used to snow in December. Having grown up in California, this hadn’t occurred to me.

The film explores many themes and one of them is New York versus Los Angeles, the leading cities on either coast of the United States. In some ways, the movie is a succession of one-liners, not surprising given that Woody Allen started his career as a stand-up comic. In the movie, Woody Allen, the quintessential New Yorker, pokes fun at Los Angeles. When Annie Hall asks Alvy Singer to consider moving to Los Angeles, he says “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn on a red light,” referring to a difference in the two city’s traffic codes.

To a New Yorker, Los Angeles is superficial, self-indulgent and epitomized by the U.S. television industry. When Annie Hall looks around the Los Angeles landscape and says “It’s so clean out here.” Allen counters with “That’s because they don’t throw their garbage away; they turn it in to television shows.”

Read more:
Irish-American culture: Pass the Colcannon
African American culture in the USA
Navigating Chicago’s cultural stew

About the author

Jason Malinowski
Jason is back from living abroad with his family for a year, volunteering in Peru and travelling around the Mediterranean. He's originally from California and has lived most of his life in the San Francisco Bay area, Los Angeles and San Diego.
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5 Comments

  • Hi! Very interesting post! Here in Barcelona, Woody Allen is a very respected and loved artist. “Vicky, Cristina, Barcelona” was generally considered a big disapointment, but they say Allen is more loved in Europe than in the States, I don’t know if that’s just an “urban legend”. Anyway, I love many of his movies and his wittiness.

  • Hi Marta,
    I do know that many New Yorkers can identify with his neurotic brand of humor and many outside of New York don’t care for him. I enjoyed Vicky Cristina Barcelona but I can’t say that I’ve enjoyed all his movies. Having lived in New York, I really live his movies set in NY, like Annie Hall, Manhatttan, Hannah and her Sisters, and Crimes and Misdemeanors.
    Thanks for commenting.
    Jason

  • Thanks for this Jason – great first post! I’m going to look out for this movie now.

    Is there a lot of movement of people between cities like New York and Los Angeles? In the UK London doesn’t really have much competition. I grew up in the North of the UK and many of my school mates (me included) moved down to London to find jobs after we finished studying. But it’s much less common for people to move in the opposite direction. At the moment the BBC is relocating a lot of jobs from London to Manchester to try to redress this imbalance.

  • Hi Liz,

    Yes, I’d say there is a lot of movement back and forth. I grew up in California and I couldn’t wait to move to NY to see what it was like. From a geography, weather, fashion and economic perspective, the two towns are opposites.

    1-Geography: NY is a metropolis and no one drives a car. LA is decentralized and sprawling and everyone drives a car.

    2-Weather: NY has cold winters and more time is spent indoors. LA has perfect weather and most activities are done outdoors.

    3- Fashion: NY’s cold weather makes its citizens cover up and “accessorize” with hats, scarves and overcoats. LA’s people use fashion to show off their bodies (great weather=more opportunity to exercise)

    4-Dominant Industries: NY’s economy is dominated by financial services and insurance and is the center for book publishing. LA is dominated by the entertainment industry

    Add all this up and I present you with two archetypes:

    The New Yorker: Pale Wall Street banker wearing an expensive Brooks Brothers suit, stands in the snow while hailing a taxi cab.

    The Angeleno: Tanned and smiling television producer driving his red convertible car wearing a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses and very white bleached teeth.

    Yes these are stereotypes, but they help illustrate some of the differences.

    Jason

  • Julia

    This post is so old..anyway I grew up in NYC and moved to LA for a couple of years and I couldnt tell why I was so unhappy until I saw Annie Hall and it made me really be able to see things. My experience was exactly that. It was awful. Awful. Awful. And the people were shallower in general. Eeeeverybody wants to be famous and just has this absurd, over the top self importance, when they’re just like oneself. And eeeeeverybody is sooooo into luxurious lifestyle. Not saying New Yorkers arent like that, they just display it less and are interested in other things. I met more open, weird and cool people in NYC. LA prides itself over being diverse, but it cannot beat NYC. LA is diverse in having different fragments of culture heterogeneously spread, accessible through long car rides. NYC is diverse homogeneously, accessible by the high level of walkability and even just taking the subway and buses. And in NYC there is a higher level of socio economic diversity in the transportation system, and the difference is a huge gap. And in NYC there are more and better museums. And the music scene is bigger. LA felt like a large ghetto to me, on one small side to the west with the shallow and not very truly artistic people (even though I enjoy some Hollywood films, they’re artistically or aesthetically challanged mostly, they’re total garbage! though movies isnt all there is to the industry…), and on the other side, a very large, rather low in diversity (Hispanic, like at least half as much, of the total population, and Im not even racist, I just like true diversity with lesser weigh of one group over another), ghetto/Mexican town (Ive seen Mexican towns so Im just saying, it looks just like it)…so that to me sucked and is very dull. And Alvy was right/ Woody. lolz. I dont live in either cities now, NYC does have its issues, it is crazy, but the point is that it definitely the high of culture in America for me.

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